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TUSD joins lawsuit against State of California

POSTED September 30, 2011 9:38 p.m.

The Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees and Superintendent Sonny Da Marto joined a coalition of education officials who filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the State of California in San Francisco Superior Court.

The California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators are suing to restore more than $2.1 billion that they say had been designated for public school under the voter-approved Proposition 98 school funding formula.

“The voters approved Prop 98 to protect schools and students. Our local schools have suffered more than $10 million in cuts in the last several years alone. We have joined this lawsuit to ensure our schools and students are provided the funding theyʼre owed according to the Constitution,” Da Marto said.

Under Prop 98, which was passed in 1998, the state must allocate about 40 percent of the budget each year to K-12 schools and community colleges, however, the law does allow the state to abandon the requirement during economic crisis budget years.

The lawsuit claims that Prop 98 funding levels were cut from the 2011-12 state budget when Governor Jerry Brown and the legislature decided to bypass the constitutional guarantee for education funding by diverting money to other budget items.

In relation to many other school districts in the state, TUSD is in fairly good shape. Last year TUSD saw about $5 million in cuts, although no teachers were laid off and there was no increase in classroom size. Salary cuts and reductions in certain services made up the shortfall.

The state could pay back the $2.1 billion but the coalition members say they are worried that the state will not backfill this shortfall in future budget years and the bypass could set a precedent for future years.

Alice Petrossian, president of ACSA, acknowledged budget challenges and said, “We recognize that the Governor and lawmakers worked together to develop a state budget that avoided deeper cuts to some public services in the short-term. However, the enacted budgetʼs hodgepodge of ʻifsʼ and ʻmaybesʼ shortchanges students and flies in the face of the Constitution's formula for funding our public schools.”

In June the state budget was passed with a blessing from the California Teachers Association when teacher job protections were developed, along with the promise of repayment for the cuts. The CTA is not included in the lawsuit and CTA President Dean Vogel has called the lawsuit “premature and unnecessary.”

According to the lawsuit, the $2.1 billion could provide $10,000 per classroom to help restore smaller class size, arts education, libraries, sports and other school programs.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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